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a spot of tea Chancellor High teen wants to help poor South Africans
Spotsylvania teenager collects tea bags for South African crafts

 Ugly, crinkly used tea bags will be turned into pieces of art by women in South Africa as a means to support themselves.
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Date published: 12/26/2006

After being pulled from a mug of boiling-hot water, dried out and emptied, tea bags are ideal canvases for palm-sized artwork. Moira Callahan, 15, of Spotsylvania County should know--she's got 600 bags that won't go to waste.

Callahan has been collecting used tea bags from teachers, students and a local Starbucks since September.

The Chancellor High School sophomore plans to take the bags to South Africa next summer to give to women in a poor village outside Cape Town.

The women will paint the bags with various designs and place them on greeting cards, coasters and other ornamental items. Sales will generate income for the villagers.

"It's a blank canvas for these women over there," she said. "They will sell what they make to wealthy Africans or tourists."

She heard about the project from an older sister who visited Africa and bought a homemade tea-bag ornament.

Callahan figured that instead of letting people throw out used tea bags, she could start collecting them for the women.

Profits will help women put roofs over their heads. "Not a big roof, but a roof, food for their children and perhaps even electricity," Callahan said.

Callahan hopes to collect between 2,000 and 2,500 tea bags before hand-delivering them to the village.

"In the long run, it's helping women who do this all the time," Callahan said. "If they get the bags already emptied they'll appreciate it."

It takes her hours to prepare the bags. She dries them on cookie trays around the house, and the smell of so many tea flavors isn't always pleasant. "Everything smells like it after a while, and that's the only downside to it," she said.

Emptying the bags requires a gentle touch. "You have to be really careful, you can go through a lot of tea bags by ripping them."

And she's not picky about what kind of bags people pass on, either--any used bag, regardless of size or shape, will do.

As the president of a new group at the school, the Student Network Against Global Poverty, she has recruited members to help with her collection efforts.

Darius Coulibaly, a teacher at Chancellor who is originally from Africa, started the student group. He said the tea-bag project will go a long way to help women in need and the children they support.

Helping the women with their small businesses is a way to foster independence, without handing over money.

"It gives them a lot of dignity as a human being--it helps break the cycle of poverty."

For more information on the tea-bag project in South Africa, visit tbagdesigns.co.za.

To reach COREY BYERS: 540/735-1976
Email: cbyers@freelancestar.com

Saving tea bags

Make sure the tea bag is completely dry.

Make a slit throught one side of the tea bag.

Empty tea leaves carefully.

Gently tear open any other seams and flatten.